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Cuts put Columbia County SNAP program on diet

Budget cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are about to tighten the belt on a state-sponsored nutrition program administered by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties.

Community Health and Wellness Team Coordinator Becky Polmateer told the Board of Supervisors’ Economic Development Committee on Monday that a $5 billion reduction in SNAP benefits has limited the agency’s ability to participate in the Eat Smart New York Nutrition Education program going forward.

“We’re losing that program, and for Columbia County, it’s a big hit,” Polmateer said. “We’re pretty much going to lose the nutrition program.”

Offered through New York State’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Eat Smart New York helps sponsor classes and events on how SNAP recipients can still eat nutritiously, as part of the former food stamps program. Demonstrations about eating healthy on a budget to shopping smarter for fruits and vegetables, and weight control, are free to those who either qualify for or have SNAP benefits.

Chuck Brooks, executive director for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties, said tying the reduction in SNAP benefits to the 2013 federal farm bill’s passage required the Eat Smart New York program to be more competitively bid. Previously, only Cornell Cooperative Extension had administered the program.

“Now they’ve opened it up. Now it can be anybody or any organization in the state,” Brooks said. “We’ve entered the bidding proceedings. We have no idea right now if any of us have been selected.”

He added there are eight Eat Smart New York regions statewide, “and a proposal by a Cornell Cooperative Extension in each region.”

Both Columbia and Greene counties are included in the Albany Cornell Cooperative Extension region.

“We serve 3,000 people between the two counties,” Brooks said. “What will probably happen is we’ll be lucky if we have one or two days a month where there’s a nutrition educator coming down.”

Other program changes are preventing Cornell Cooperative Extension from being able to recruit community educators from low-income neighborhoods.

“Now you won’t be able to work the new program, unless you have a nutrition degree or something similar,” Brooks said.

State officials are additionally required to rate the program based on regional needs, pushing attention away from rural pockets of poverty and more educators onto high-needs area.

“In our area, the area with the highest need is Schenectady County,” Brooks said. “The area with the lowest need is Columbia County.”

“With this region, it was based on the number of people enrolled in SNAP,” Polmateer added.

In the interim, Brooks said he and Polmateer are exploring other funding options, possibly through the Galvan or Dyson foundations.

“We’ve had this grant 10 to 15 years, and it’s helped a lot of people,” Brooks said.

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